Travel Advice

suitcases lined up blair family

suitcases lined up blair family

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Something a little lighter today. I was reading this list of travel advice from Anthony Bourdain (I like him a ton), and loved so much of what he had to say. One of the standout tips he offers is to read fiction on the flight set in the location you are headed to. He says, “Fiction is in many ways more useful than a guidebook, because it gives you those little details, a sense of the way a place smells, an emotional sense of the place.” Isn’t that great?

Another thing he mentioned is that he prefers to check his baggage on flights. I was a little surprised when I read it, because I feel like for years all travel advice has pointed to carryons, carryons, carryons. I have some friends who are passionate about having a carryon-only policy. They make no exceptions. Even on long-haul trips, they prefer to travel as light as possible. And they also carry some concern about lost luggage — it’s too big a risk in their eyes and they’re not willing to hand off their suitcase to anyone else.

But I admit, I also cheered when I read Anthony Bourdain’s luggage advice, because I feel the same way! I arrive at the airport, and I can’t wait to get rid my luggage and see it transported away on that magical moving belt. Especially if I’m traveling with the kids! For me, going through security with the least possible amount of stuff is ideal. And then, if we happen to be there early, we’re free to roam around and see what the airport has to offer — maybe even take in a sit-down meal, or get a pedicure — without having to watch our baggage. Heading down the gateway, finding our seats, settling the kids — all of it is easier with no luggage dragging behind us.

I realize that sometimes, we simply don’t have a choice — when we moved to France and when we moved back to the U.S., we used every checked baggage and carryon option available to us. And when I’m traveling for a big conference — like Alt Summit which is coming up in June — I often have so many supplies that a larger suitcase is essential, which means checking it is essential too. But on most of my flights, I only bring a roller bag, so I really do have a choice between carrying it on and checking it.

I should note, that even if I’m boarding a plane without a carryon, I still carry a tote with my laptop/book/magazine and other essentials. But if possible, I prefer to hand off my actual luggage to someone else.

A silly topic, I know — I guess I wanted an excuse to share the article on travel advice. : ) But now I’m curious. Where do you fall on the checked baggage versus carryon baggage debate? Any strong opinions? And if you read the Anthony Bourdain article, I’d love to hear if any tips stick out to you.

P.S. — The tricky thing these days is the luggage fees. They’re the worst! I’m always looking for a workaround to avoid them, though I fly so many different airlines that I don’t have a good system.

64 thoughts on “Travel Advice”

  1. If I travel with kids, I check as much as possible. When we were moving across country (post graduate school) I found cardboard boxes that were the maximum size allowed for checked luggage. That many boxes times four passengers (given a lot of rearranging to meet the weight restrictions) we moved a lot of stuff without a moving van.
    For normal travel or if I’m going somewhere with just a carry on size I prefer to bring it along so that if the possibility of getting “bumped” arises then I have all I need.

  2. I’m so with you. I want to wave bye-bye to my luggage, kids or not! Ahhh, the freedom to walk away with only my purse/shoulder bag. No keeping up with stuff, worrying about it, taking it to the restroom, taking it through restaurant lines, deciding chair, floor, lap, finding a bin once on the plane. No thanks. :)

    1. I gotta say, I LOVE airport restrooms, because they actually allow room for luggage in there! Sometimes, if I really have go, I just wheel the bag up against the door instead of taking the time to lock it (is it just me, or are bathroom locks tricky sometimes? Must line it up just so…).

  3. I’m a firm believer in checked bags. I stash my toothbrush and a change of clothes in my carry on tote just in case my suitcase gets lost, but then I am happy to hand my suitcase to the nice people at the gate.

    The only exception is when I have a flight that arrives very late at night. Then those 30 minutes of waiting for my bag to come off the conveyor are torture. I’m tired and cranky and certain that if I don’t get to the taxi stand right this instant I will never get a ride to the hotel. In those instances, I prefer to be carry-on only.

  4. I love it when our carryons are only backpacks. But I don’t love paying $25 or more per bag to check it. So if luggage is free, then I definitely check it.

    We’re out of the baby (13, 10 and 2), so even with the “baby” we only need a few diapers, wipes and an outfit. That can fit into almost anything. and the big kids worry about their backpacks. They’ve both decided that they like packing light for in flight stuff.

  5. I hate paying the fees but I love checking bags! Especially with kids when we still have so much to carry on it’s nice to get rid of the big suitcases!

  6. I’m for checking everything you can check. Nothing worse than hauling heavy luggage around with all of the walking and train-riding you have to do, plus keeping track of your kids!

  7. What a great article! Thanks for sharing :) I Love Anthony Bourdain! We still haven’t dared to travel on an airplane with our 16 month old, but it’s going to happen eventually!

  8. Checked luggage all the way! My grandma used to say it is best to check bags but always pack an extra pair of undies and a few toiletries in your carry on. If your bag gets lost, at least you’re set for another day!

  9. I have a recovering road warrior husband who is all about the carry-on. I can go either way now – but I often check on the way home no matter what!

  10. Even when I was a road warrior for work, traveling every week, I checked my luggage. The business flight out on Sunday evening is all about waiting that extra 15 minutes for everyone to squeeze their carry-ons into the overhead – by the time everyone else sat down, I had read a chapter of my book!

  11. Amy Mendelblatt

    we have a decent workaround to the checked baggage fees.
    we pack carry-ons, and carry them through security. BUT, when they announce that the flight is full and they want people to check their bags at the gate FOR FREE, we are the first ones in line for it. the method has never failed us, and we have never been denied the option of gate-check-for-free.

    though, I’m pretty sure when we fly this summer to alaska we’ll be checking bags. too. much. gear.

  12. I always checked my luggage before the fees, now I am at a loss, too. On an international flight with my extended family (10 adults) our luggage was lost. Every. Single. Piece. It was horrible. They sent it to France, we were in Sweden. We received our luggage the next day, but it made for a very stressful 24 hours. Now, I pack a lightweight shirt/dress in my purse, just in case.

    1. Something similar to me has happened and so even though now we always travel with AMEX insurance now, I make sure at the airport I dress for my destination or at least have the pieces in my carry on for it. Pull out the coat/jacket if I need it, or light weight piece. One time we had to wait two full days for our luggage to be delivered just from the wrong NYC airport! While it was nice that the hotel gave me a valet jacket, I would have preferred my nice maternity one!

    1. Fiona, Rick Steves’ web site for travel has lots of suggestions for novels (and films!) for destinations in Europe.

        1. DH and I had the privilege of sharing a dinner with him (and his GF) in the fall after a book event on Lummi Island here in the PNW. It was great fun!

  13. I am definitely in the check-it camp, although those fees are a pain. My carry-on pet peeve is when I have a small carry-on bag, but can’t put it in the overhead bin because of everyone’s rollerbags. Being tall, I like the legroom but it gets eaten up when I have to put a backpack down there! Oh well, not really a huge deal but it does bug me sometimes!

    1. Haha, so I’m the opposite (but I too have a long inseam)! It annoys me when small bags take up space for “real” carry-ons, as I call them. I do know what you mean about the legroom though, so what I do is: after take off when you can lean your seat back, use approved electronic devices, etc., I’ll move my purse (backpack in your case) to the floorboard so that i can stretch out my legs under the seat in front of me. Then when we’re landing, I have to put it back, but it helps! (You might be wondering, “How do you get down there to move your bag when there’s 3″ between you and the next chair?” Valid. question. I typically use my feet.)

  14. Our strategy is to pack a carryon but check it. We prefer to go as light as possible and there has never been a long trip that I used everything I brought. If it is a tropical vacation-we only bring a few tee shirts, one pair of shorts, a skirt and a sweater/sweatshirt. Oh and several bathing suits! I alway book a place where we have laundry available that way we can have very few things.

    Our newest strategy is to alway pack in a backpack, worked for us in New Zealand we were able to do a spur of the moment backpacking trip which was the highlight of our trip. We have super high quality backpacks and will always travel with them even when we don’t fill them up. Our kids are college age so they are packing for themselves these days makes a big difference. Also I try to pack some scrapbooking supplies and do a journal on the road type book as we go-the best thing about that is that I find myself observing things I might miss otherwise.

  15. I absolutely prefer to check my luggage. I like going through security with as little as possible and definitely don’t like being part of the fight for overhead compartment space.

  16. I’m a checked bag convert! I used to one of those “take pride in carry on wizardry” types, but now I view that as a hassle. First off, it just seems more civilized! Anytime I don’t have to schlep my stuff, all the better. I feel like we’ve all been fooled by the airlines into thinking carrying on is better, when really were just doing all the work! (Don’t get me started on self check out stations at the grocery.)

    Also, it helps me not be on such a hurry! Before, I was always racing to get out of the airport as quick as possible like it was some race, and really for no good reason. It made me on edge like I had to be the best at treble ing lightly and nimbly. Eff that. Now I take my time and even use the time at the baggage carousel to do some stretches after being on the plane. It feels so much better.

  17. Being a family of 6 we check two large and carry two on. Less expensive and less risky having all the luggage lost. On our flight to Hawaii last year I got a bit upset when we got to our assigned row and both bins above our seats were full of other peoples carry ons. How can two whole rows of seats have the bins already full!!!! Here we are with six people and we only had two bags. I made a stink and the flight attendant helped us out. Too many people carry on way too much stuff!!!!

  18. I read The Last King of Scotland when going to Uganda and it was so fun to be reading it while getting ready for the trip and while I was there to see all the places and culture it talked about. I also read the Bridget Jones’ Diary books while living in Scotland (and she visits Scotland in the book) which was also fun for the same reasons. So yes, I totally agree that if you can find good books about the location you are going to it makes for a great read and you appreciate the story even more.

  19. I used to take carry-on luggage everywhere and, in addition, would pack a backpack full of everything I could possibly want for my in-flight comfort. And then my brother mentioned how awesome it is to get on the plane with nothing but a ticket, a wallet and a good book. So I’ve ditched the carry-on and the backpack in favor of checked luggage and a book that fit in my (admittedly large) purse. I also can’t lose the daily meds I need as a type 1 diabetic, so I throw those in my purse, too. Freedom! Flying’s never been so enjoyable.

  20. Cathie Kenney

    My checked bag was never seen again. I lost family keepsakes and will never make that mistake again.

  21. This is one of my favorite topics! The article is fantastic and so so true! I totally agree with him on how to avoid jet lag.. sleep, sleep, and more sleep on the flight and try to get on the same time zone as the place you’re headed. Also, his travel splurge of staying in a nice hotel after travelling rough. My husband and I did that on our honeymoon in India. We took a 6 hour, extremely harrowing bus ride from Jaipur to Udaipur and checked in to the Lake Palace Hotel. Our 5 day accommodations in Jaipur were not so great, so staying at the Lake Palace was an absolute luxury. It felt amazing! So worth it! A few years later we did the same in China after weeks of travel in central China, we got to Beijing and stayed at the Hyatt. Total luxury and totally worth it!

    In regards to checking or not, I used to never ever check anything, but now, with kids, it’s a necessity. I just carry on whatever is difficult to replace, which isn’t much! Thanks for this! It brought back some fun travel memories!

  22. We were walking by a department store window the other day and saw luggage with GPS on display. Of course! It’s called Trakdot, and if it works well it seems like a great option for those of us skittish to check luggage.

  23. I always check – i’m short & honestly can’t reach the overhead bins. While I might get a nice tall person to help me put my bag up there I can almost guarantee at the end of the flight it’s everyone for themselves. I try to fly Southwest for work so I can check two bags for free. I’m usually headed to an industry tradeshow/ sales meeting so I divide what I need between the two bags going & then use the second suitcase for samples I think I’ll need before the box I ship home arrives. Plus I need room to bring home gifts and souvenirs. I also carry on either a backpack with my laptop or my rolling computer bag – either has room for clean undies & a tee shirt just in case I’m without my luggage at the other end. I pack the bare minimums from my purse into my carry on and pack my actual purse in one of my suitcases too. One less thing to keep track of in the airport. So far it’s worked very well.

  24. I’ve got to say that the number of people on flights with carry on only drives me crazy! I swear every time I fly the carry on bags I see seem to get bigger and bigger and bigger. There’s no way that most of the “carry on” roller cases that you see squeezed into the overhead compartment actually meet the size requirements! It’s always such a struggle to find space for the small carry on I take with me. I guess with most airlines charging for baggage now everyone wants to squeeze as much as possible into their carry on.

    My family took quite a few flights between the US and Canada last year and of all the airlines we flew the only one that didn’t charge a baggage fee was WestJet. As I thought of WestJet as a “budget” airline I was quite surprised that they didn’t charge a fee. Not sure if they fly anywhere that you need to go (we flew with them Ottawa-Toronto-New York) but it’s something to keep in mind.

    As for packing, I try to travel fairly light with one checked suitcase for the whole family if possible. The kids take a small backpack or Trunki ride on suitcase as their carry on. They have a few activities, snacks, a cuddly toy if it’s a long haul flight and a change of clothes in their carry on. Their stuff could fit in my carry on but they feel special having their own bag to carry. I also pack a light change of clothes for myself in my carry on – just in case the kids spill something on me (it’s happened!) or if my luggage is lost (it’s also happened!). Other than that I always put my camera, laptop and anything breakable in my carry on. Have you seen how those baggage handlers handle out baggage?!

    1. I know Southwest offers free checked bags, and I think JetBlue does to. But for the bigger airlines, I feel like you have to have a special credit card to get the fees waived.

    2. I know what you mean!! Everyone and their dog seems to be carrying on, but for some reason, when I try to, they ALWAYS tell me it’s too big to go in the overhead bin and make me gate check it. Then I get irate when I sit down and see all the bags BIGGER than mine, yet I now have to wait on baggage claim. Happened on an overseas flight, when I strategically packed for a week in a carryon. I could have had more outfits if I had known I was going to have to check it anyways!! GRRRR! :)

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  26. Having four kids and also having worked at the arrival service for SAS, I prefer checking my luggage and going through security with less stuff. Knowing how rare it really is that luggage gets lost, or even delayed – Considering how much luggage is flown all over – makes me less nervous. A good tip for checked luggage is to have your name and contact info on a luggage tag on the INSIDE of the suitcase. As well as on the outside. On the rare occasions that luggage really does get lost or sent to the wrong destination it is usually because the original tags have fallen off or become unreadable. Almost all ‘lost luggage’ usually turns up within 24 hours. So packing a tothbrush and clean undies in your hand luggage is always a goid idea, if only for your own peace of mind. All the carryons people bring also cause delays and discomfort on board, so I absolutely recommend checking it. Even for a fee. This summer we are taking our two youngest to London, and i have only requested checked luggage for the return. ;-) we will be travelling very light there, probably just a small backpack each.

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  28. Carry on definitely b/c I’m too impatient to wait at the baggage carousel. When we fly with the kids we UPS their stuff a week ahead of time. It’s cheaper than bag fees and they can walk on the flight with a small backpack and our stuff is already at the destination.

  29. I read the advice about reading fiction set in your destination before my honeymoon 13 years ago, and packed a few novels set in our destination, Australia. I love doing that! I also find that once I return from new places, I love reading fiction set there; it makes the reading even more enjoyable in that direction, too.

    I love checking bags. I 100% agree with you about the complete advantage of being able to move through security and the airport without the extra burden, especially when you are traveling with your kids! The only reason I don’t is because of the fees! We did get our luggage lost once, when my daughter was 15 months old and we flew to Crete. Luckily, as it was my first child and her 1st international trip (therefore I was still in over prepared-mom mode), I had plenty of supplies for her to make it through the 2 days that passed before our suitcases arrived! I did learn my lesson, though, and now carry at least toothbrushes, contact case & solution, & a couple of other very small basics in my large purse/carryon if I do get to check my luggage.

  30. I have always been a carry on person, even before the fees. I’m terrified of them losing my luggage, and I just haaaate waiting at the carousel. When I get somewhere, I’m ready to go!

    I have really enjoyed reading the comments though, and who knows, maybe I’ll give it a try! Carry on has just never been an issue for me – my suitcase is 20″, spinner wheels, fits with plenty of space in those little TSA buckets, etc. It also makes for a great foot stool or purse holder while waiting. ;)

    I have wondered why airlines don’t push for checking rather than carry on – seems like it would be more efficient than everyone squeezing their luggage or moving the tiny bags and coats around and then taking gate checks, etc.

    1. I think they’re trying to encourage people to bring smaller bags to keep the weight of the plane down. Also, like someone else mentioned, you’re schlepping your own bags instead of airline employees doing it. But some airlines (Spirit and Frontier come to mind) charge for checked bags AND carry ons, and the carry ons cost more!

  31. Timely! We just went on a short-ish trip, and I packed all my stuff and the kids’ stuff in a single checked bag, because there was a charge to check a bag, and as I paid it and tagged it and watched it get on the “magical moving belt,” I thought, “Money well spent!”

    I don’t want to jinx the whole thing, but I’ve never had a lost bag, and making everything fit is much less stressful if you’re not trying to cram it into a carry-on. And then it magically gets itself there. Yay! xox

  32. I have a really hard time paying the extra money for checking bags, so even when we travel with kids for family vacations we pack super light and try to make it with carry-ons (though I sometimes cheat and stuff some extras, like winter coats, in the car seat bag, since the car seat and stroller check for free!). That extra time waiting for bags is excruciating!

  33. I go back and forth but I checked my suitcase for my honeymoon- a trip that I didn’t want to have to pack light for- and my suitcase was lost for more than half the trip! The extra outfit and swimsuit I brought in my tiny carryon were great the first day but by day 5 I was so upset by the whole run around. I also have had friends who checked bags for a 4 day ski trip (impossible to carry all the snow gear on) and ended up having to buy all knew ski gear or the trip would have been a waste because their bags didn’t make it til day 3. Infuriating that airlines can get away with being so irresponsible.

  34. I love the advice about reading fiction that is set where you are travelling to. We are headed to Newfoundland this summer and I gave my Mother (she is coming with us) two novels set in Newfoundland for Mother’s Day this year. She loved it and has already read one. This way I get to read the books too.

    As for the checked vs carry-on debate – I’m more a carry-on type because I don’t want anything to get lost.

  35. As a frequent traveler (or I should say family of travelers) to the UK, I really hate how expensive it is to check bags, so we always try to pack as lightly as we can and ask my mother-in-law to keep an eye out for the things we may need when we arrive. However, I just made my first solo trip to the UK and thought I would do it all with just a big purse and carry on. By the time I made it through multiple security lines, customs, lay-overs, etc., I really regretted the heavy carry on. My back and shoulders were really hating me. So as much as I hate to say it, I think checking in baggage is far easier for long journeys.

  36. I just returned from a business trip. I always check my suitcase (yup, I’ll pay) and take a small, non-roller bag on the plane. It’s squishy and fits under the seat with no problem. And what’s better, I can get off the plane without dealing with overhead compartments and all of the too-large bags crammed into them. Just once, I want an airline to test every carryon in the size rack. People really played fast and loose on this last trip!

  37. I went to France in May and am currently typing this on a balcony while watching a rainbow on Waikiki beach. My luggage was checked both times. I always carry a bit of makeup in my purse so the worst that could happen was I would need to buy a new outfit while I wait for my suitcase to show up. I always carry on my laptop and computer.

  38. I always try to check, for one reason because i have to much liquid makeup and toiletries that have to be separately bagged! Foundation, mascara, liquid eyeliner, toothpaste, face wash, not to mention my little guy’s juice and squeeze food…ug. Such a hassle.

  39. My duffel bag was delivered by a nice man this morning. It was only missing for two days. My understanding is that it didn’t leave Manchester, England, the same day I did and then took a detour to Atlanta because it wanted some more solo adventures.

    Seriously, I am so glad that I put a spare shirt in my carry-on, because you can wear jeans for a couple of days without difficulty, but shirts don’t last forever.

  40. I’ve traveled overseas with 6 kids for a month with only a backpack for each of us. I’ve also traveled with kids to Europe for several months at a time, several times, with checked luggage only–1 bag each. I like both methods. It depends on my destination, as to which I choose. If I am going to travel via lots of public transportation–for instance, London-we prefer carryon baggage only. When we are traveling to locations without public transportation–for instance, Eastern Europe, I take all checked luggage. I do always carryon my electronics, my makeup, and a change of underwear and shirt for everyone, just in case.

  41. There are certainly a lot of (not so nice) tradeoffs with my husband in the military, but free checked bags for personal travel is pretty amazing. We are pretty light packers anyway, but it’s still nice to throw our clothes and shoes in a bag (we usually combine our stuff) and let someone else handle it. I hate fighting for overhead bin space. We do still take toiletries and a clean shirt in a small backpack though. Always good to be prepared. :)

  42. I like Mr. Bourdain too. I may have a slight crush on him. I carry-on with a backpack and I check if it’s more than a weekend.

  43. Ha, this is so timely. I was in LA and Paso Robles Thursday through Sunday (last night) and I carried on going there, to save money, and checked my bag going back because I had a bottle of wine in it. I have to say that I love dropping that bag off and not having to schlep it through security or worry about it fitting into the overhead compartment. I also felt so unburdened just wearing a cross-body purse through the airport. No sore neck or shoulder from hauling a bag around. I am firmly in “Camp Bag Check”!

  44. When in the US, I try to fly only Southwest if they are heading to my destination since they allow one checked bag for free. Then, like you, I carry on a tote or backpack with flight essentials as well as meds, etc. Having said that, if it is a quick overnight trip, I do have a small bag that works when I want to carry on only. :)

  45. my husband and I are headed to France for two weeks (tooling around the whole of the Northern region, with a few days in Paris)–what fiction should we read??

  46. I love to check my baggage, but one time while I was traveling from Nashville to SF, a huge storm came through the west and my plane ended up diverting, then finally made it to Denver at 1 in the morning. I had missed my connection and wasn’t able to get a flight out for TWO days because of the storm. My baggage, however, had not been unloaded and therefore still was traveling to SF. I had nothing but the business casual clothes on my back and it was….really awful. Because of that experience, I will never check my baggage again. Plus, as someone who travels with a lot of layovers, I frequently have to change flight plans midflight. If I’ve checked my luggage, I sometimes can’t do that, so that is another benefit of carrying-on.

  47. I’ve always insisting on bringing my own carry-on, packing as much as humanly possibly on a tiny suitcase, to avoid 1) getting my bag lost and 2) surcharges. But last week it was my very first trip alone after having my baby and I had just read this blog post… which made me think of how inconvenient it is to tot a bag and a backpack through airport security, through airports and gates… So I decided to give it a try and I loved it! I was able to bring a lot of different outfits, even my flat iron and some cosmetics that I never bring because they’d exceed the liquid quota. I felt so free walking through and I loved having a lot of dresses, jewelry, etc. Traveling with babies is a whole different world, though…! thanks for the tips :)

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